The Jets return to action from their bye this Sunday to meet the Cincinnati Bengals in the Meadowlands. A lot of people out in the real world are swamped by work after returning from a vacation. That should not be the case for Gang Green this Sunday. The Bengals put up a valiant effort against the Cowboys last Sunday and another in another trip to the Meadowlands last month against the Giants, but this game should not present much of a test in this team's quest to get back over .500.
When we last saw our heroes, everything came together in a rout of the Cardinals. Brett Favre had perhaps the finest day of a historic career, tossing 6 touchdown passes. He and Laveranues Coles finally seemed to get on the same page, connecting for 3 of those touchdown tosses. It was the kind of day this team envisioned when it acquired the future Hall of Famer. On the other side of the ball, a passive defense allowed the Cardinals to move the ball at will with the game out of hand, which caused the usual suspects in the media to overlook a dominant first half by the unit and declare the unit a major point of concern. The Jets, refreshed from a week off, have a chance to build on this momentum and keep pace in the wide open AFC East.
The Bengals have returned to a familiar position as a league laughing stock. Unfortunately for their fans, their problems go beyond losing. These guys are like the Jail Blazers of the NBA earlier this decade. A few years ago, it looked like Cincy was a young team on the rise. The team has been torpedoed by underachieving on the field and embarrassing conduct by a number of players off the field. It is another example of how low character guys are typically not worth it because they cannot be counted upon. A team does not need to take character to the extremes Eric Mangini did earlier in his tenure with the Jets, but it also should heed the Bengals' situation, which shows the dangers of totally disregarding it. A decent man who seemed to have righted the ship, Marvin Lewis, could be on the way out because his management will not provide him with the support necessary to weed out the bad.
Carson Palmer will miss this game for the Bengals with an elbow injury. His presence might have made the contest scary. Even though he is not having a great year, he has enough talent to steal any given game. Ryan Fitzpatrick (FROM...Harvard) will start in his place. Fitzpatrick played a great game in his first career start with the Rams as a rookie in 2005. In his other four career starts, he has not put up a quarterback rating above 65. His 1-2 career touchdown to interception rating is horrid, albeit in a small sample size. This is a guy without the physical tools make the throws Palmer can. The Bengals have a great trio of receivers in T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad Ohio Cinco, and Chris Henry. The main problem is that their signal caller may not be able to exploit it, even with starting safety Eric Smith suspended and the Jets' lack of corner depth. (The other problems are that Ocho Cinco seems more worried about making headlines than making plays this season, and that Henry's continued presence on the roster embodies his club's lack of commitment to character.)
The Bengals have been awful running the ball this season. After cutting Rudi Johnson in the preseason, Chris Perry and the legendary (at least for one day against the Jets a year ago) Kenny Watson split carries. After this pair struggled, the Bengals did what any other club going nowhere with too many bad character guys would do. That is to say they signed Cedric Benson, a Draft bust facing separate DUI charges. All in all, Cincy runs for an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry. With Kris Jenkins in the middle of the 3-4, we will probably not see a repeat of last year's contest, which saw Dewayne Robertson blown off the ball as Watson had a fourth quarter field day to put New York away.
If the Bengals have been bad running the bad, they have been just as putrid stopping the run. Opponents are running for 171 yards per contest and 4.5 per carry. To put this in perspective, LaDainian Tomlinson's career rushing average is 4.5 yards per carry. This defense makes running backs it faces L.T. Keith Rivers is playing the David Harris memorial rookie stud linebacker on an abysmal rushing defense role. The rookie linebacker has 31 tackles at this point of the year. Suffice it to say, tackles John Thornton and Domata Peko have not done the job controlling the point of attack.
Cincy has not been terrible against the pass. Leon Hall has proven to be a solid starter for the Bengals. He is part of the spectacular 2007 Draft class at corner. Johnathan Joseph, another quality starting corner, returns this week from an ankle ailment. This pushes another corner, David Jones to the bench. The Bengals rate in the top ten in the league in yards allowed against the pass. This is due partially to a high quality of cornerback play, especially considering the team's lack of a pass rush. They only have a 2007 Jetsesque 3 sacks on the season. Hall and Jones have been hung out to dry by ends Antwan Odom and Robert Gethers and held their own. It also helps that their run defense is so lousy. Teams have so much success pounding the ball on the Bengals that the secondary has faced only the 20th most passing attempts in the league even though they have not hit their bye yet.
The Bengals do have a solid special teams unit. Shayne Graham is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. Kyle Larson averages almost 43 yards per kick, and Glen Holt broke off a pair of kickoff returns against the Cowboys in excess of 40 yards.
Keys to Victory:
1. Don't Oversleep: If the Jets cannot dress enough players by kickoff at 1PM because too many are still in bed, they will forfeit.
2. Drive to the Stadium Safely: The same goes if too many Jets get into car accidents.
3. Look Both Ways in the Parking Lot Walking into the Stadium: Ditto for Jets getting mowed down by cars.
4. Go After Fitzpatrick: This is no time for Bob Sutton to go into Sutton mode. The Jets have had some issues in coverage, particularly against slot receivers this year. If the Jets get after Fitzpatrick, he will make mistakes. If they do not, the receivers will get open, and the Bengals might actually be able to move the ball.
5. Get Jones Going: The Jets need to start getting more out of Thomas Jones if they are going anywhere in 2008. Favre can only do so much on his own. Going against a weak defensive front can provide a confidence builder for the offensive line that had plenty of time to work together in low pressure situations over the past two weeks.
Key Matchup: Chris Henry vs. Abram Elam
Going against a mistake-prone quarterback, the Jets should be using a lot of cover two this week. It is best to take away the deep ball so that Fitzpatrick has to put together long drives, where he will eventually commit a miscue. Elam will likely need to take away Henry on deep routes. Starting for the suspended Eric Smith, Elam needs to avoid the boneheaded plays he made on an almost weekly basis in 2007. If the Bengals can get some cheap points on big plays, they may be able to hang around.
Best case scenario:
Favre continues his hot play, Jones runs wild, and the Bengals cave early after a series of demoralizing losses.
Worst case scenario:
Favre starts making throws into triple coverage, which give the Bengals a short field on several drives to keep it close before the Jets pull a reverse of the 2007 meeting and use Jones to wear the Bengals down in the second half. New York struggles to an uncomfortably close win.
What will happen:
This would have all the makings of a trap game if Palmer was in the lineup. A Jets team riding high after the bye could easily look a struggling team with dangerous talent. Without Palmer, it is difficult to see how the Bengals win. A stagnant offense now has an incapable quarterback at the helm. The run defense is still hopeless, and it is only a matter of time before this group packs it in with their coach's job in trouble. This contest should continue the good feelings of Arizona and keep this team on a roll.